Out of Africa: State of the Language Industry in the World’s Fastest Growing Economy

From the left: Johan, Jiri, Sharon

As the world’s fastest growing economy with the greatest concentration of languages, Africa is the next big thing in the language industry. Much has been done by non-profits to facilitate and promote language services on the African continent, but what about professional language services providers? At a panel session titled “Out of Africa: State of the Language Industry in the World’s Fastest Growing Economy”, Jiri Stejskal of CETRA Language Solutions was joined by Sharon Tabraham of ST Communications and Johan Botha of Folio Online to discuss language diversity, access to language technology, opportunities for growth, and challenges specific to the African continent, and also to share success stories. The panel took place at the sixth annual conference of the Globalization and Localization Association in Istanbul on March 24, 2014. The three panelists are no strangers to the African market: the US-based CETRA Language Solutions opened an African subsidiary in Ghana in 2013, and both ST Communications and Folio Online are based in South Africa where they have been providing localization services since 2008 and 1988 respectively.

Language Diversity
With 53 countries and an estimated 2,500 languages spread out over six language families it can be a challenge to navigate when charting your localization strategy without a partner. In Nigeria alone, more than 500 languages are spoken, and South Africa has no less than 11 official languages. Throughout the continent, more than 200 languages are used in mass media and about 50 in public administration.

Language Technology
Given the economic reality, computer-aided translation tools and machine translation engines are out of reach for most translators in Africa, and training opportunities are few and far between. Companies such as the ones represented on this panel can make a real difference in introducing language technology to the African market by providing discounted or free licenses and training.

Opportunities for Growth
According to the research conducted by Common Sense Advisory (CSA), Africa accounts for less then 1% of global spending on localization services. Given the language diversity and the fact that 7 of 15 world’s fastest growing countries are located in Africa, the opportunities for growth in the localization industry are significant. The CSA research also shows that:

  • – 72.4% of African consumers say they are more likely to buy a product if the information is in their own language
  • – Less than 5% of Africans speak English as their first language
  • – Only 470 million of the 1 billion Africans speak English as a second language
  • – English is the predominant official language in South Africa, but it is only spoken as a first language by 9.6% of the inhabitants

Among the growing industries are oil and gas, telecom, information and communication technology, and life sciences.

The main challenges are infrastructure, resources, and the concept of time. Access to electricity and connectivity still pose a challenge even in the most advanced African economies, with frequent blackouts and lapses in internet service. In the language industry, the main resource are the translators. With the demand for language services far outstripping the supply of qualified translators, the market is flooded with less-than-professional providers; therefore, users of translation services are advised to select their vendors carefully. And, of course, tomorrow is another day in Africa, a frustrating concept in the Western culture.

Success Stories
Even with the challenges described above, the localization market in Africa is alive and well, and growing at a fast pace. Initially used primarily in emergency situations having to do with health care, housing, and refugee status, language services have moved up in the Maslow hierarchy and are now used across a wide variety of industries. The three panelists shared their success stories in providing localization services in Africa – to find out more contact us at info@cetra.com.